PLUME SERVICE II | December 10, 2016 | More “Hearing Voices”

Amy Miller finds a comfortable spot on the stairs to write.
Here, Amy listens intently as Morganne MacDonald reads her story.

As promised, here are a few more stories inspired by the paintings in The Pfister Hotel.  The first was written by Amy Miller–we squealed in delight at its ability to be both formal sounding and naughty.  The second is another by Amy, a letter from a character in the hazy painting who is barely recognizable at first.  And the last is mine, also a letter, based on the dark-haired woman’s gaze vs. the glazed eyes of the red-haired woman, the position of the old man’s hands, and the dichotomy of Catholic religious items and the reasonable scale.

“The Poppy Field” story is one of imminent marriage, “Moonlight Scene” is about a hoped for return to married life, and “The Fortune Teller” tells the story of a young woman looking for good fortune in the love department.

Enjoy!

“The Poppy Field” (Louis Aston Knight)
by Amy Miller

The sun was warm for late summer.  The scent of the flowers was strong in the air, delightfully suffocating in its heaviness.

Isabelle looked over at her sister Henrietta, already dressed in her best clothes and wearing an apron to protect against soiling.  “Dear sister, I am so happy to be here with you,” said Isabelle, plucking another perfect, pink bloom.

“Not as happy as I to have you with me!” replied Henrietta.  “Just to think, the two of us picking my marriage bouquet.  It will be as if you are holding my hand down the aisle.”

Isabelle could hear the joy in Henrietta’s voice.  It was heartwarming, even in the heat–and the dizzying profusion of color abounded around them.

“You have accepted a good man.  I’m sure he will bring you a happy life.:

“Thank you for your blessing, dear sister.”

“Well, it’s really his blessings you will be concerned with this evening,” said Isabelle with a conspiratorial nudge.  

Henrietta gasped and blushed.  “Izzy,” she cried, with playful horror.

“Well, Is it not true?  T’would be a sad life to be bound to a man who could not fulfill all his duties.”

“Izzy, I’m sure he will make me happy,” Henrietta said, dropping her gaze and blushing.

“Moonlight Scene” (H.M. Kitchel)
by Amy Miller

20 September 1872

Dearest Majorie,

I write to you by light of fire and full moon.  Camp tonight is by a small stream bed.  Work fills my days, but it is in the long, lonely hours of the night that my mind turns only to thoughts of you.

I have managed to capture an excellent harvest of valuable pelts.  If all goes well, this trip will buy us provisions for a comfortable winter.  We may even have enough to try buying seed to plant in the spring.  I know how pained you feel at the risk I take on these trips.  With any luck, this one may become the last.

I hold your handkerchief close to my heart each time I sleep, trusting your love and divine providence to watch over me and hold me safe from harm. I long for the day we shall be together again in one house, as husband and wife should be.

I will post this letter to you when I next arrive at a fort.  I hope it will find you well and safe in your father’s care.  Tell him that soon he shall have a son-in-law worthy of the title.

Yours in love.

“Beneath the Table” (inspired by Ludwig Vollmar’s Fortune Teller)
by Dominic Inouye

Dear Herr Vollmar,

I write to you today with a quite serious request.  Two days ago, I accompanied my younger sister–you’ll remember her as Lotta–to your home, despite my initial concern about two girls such as us visiting a stranger, let alone a man, in his private abode.  You must know that it was not without a moral struggle betwixt us that I finally conceded to this most curious venture–if only, I told her, to unleash my feminine venom should anything unseemly occur.

She sought your sage advice, believing you to be a man of both your word and a man of God, inspired by the holy scriptures.  Indeed, the icons and crucifix and prayer beads that hang on your wall seem to speak to this truth.  But, sir, I studied you, since I am an observant and cautious girl, just as my mother always taught me to be.  Your holy words, on the contrary, belied the archaic babble inspired by the arcana of your dusty tarot cards, hidden as they were beneath the table.  I was wise to your charlatanism, but refrained from intervening, as my sister had willingly clasped her heart over her ears.  She would have been as deaf to my plea for her to leave your foolery as she was deaf to your foolery.  You spoke no godly words, only ones of devils and towers, hierophants and suns–and the Hanged Man–which she no doubt heard as favorable signs gleaned from the Old Testament or, better yet, the Apocalypse, that her long months of pining for a certain young man, nay fool, would soon be over.

This is why I write to you now, in her absence, to insist that you never allow her to visit you again; neither will she procure your services nor will you promote them. For you have gained in coins what she has lost in faith and decency.  Yes, she has more hope now, but it is misguided, turned awry by a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  I promise to not be too slow to call your bluff and reveal you as the false prophet you are.  For now, she must not know I have made such demands on her behalf.  I trust you will heed this warning.  

Sincerely,

Neté Fuchs*

* In German, Fuchs means “fox hunter.”

PLUME SERVICE II | December 10, 2016 | “Hearing Voices”

What is “voice”?

It’s what comes out of our mouths when we speak, the reverberation of air through our vocal cords that makes particular sounds, with a pitch and a timbre, a tone and a frequency.  But is that all it is?

Is it the expression of our unique style, whether spoken or written (or even painted or danced)?  A feel, a beat; a rhythm, a pace?  The formality or informality of how we are communicating, indicated by our vocabulary and inflection and even our body language?  Is it our accent, revealing our genesis, a region whose inhabitants have trained their vocal cords to reverberate in “ahs” versus “ohs,” a drawl, a click, a cadence–to say “bubbler” instead of “water fountain”?

Is it a descriptor, as in “professional voice” or “stuffy voice,”  “silly voice” or “natural voice” (whatever that is)?  Is it our way of interpreting a situation in which we vary our vocal cords to fit an environment, like a “church voice” versus a “teacher voice”?

Or is it even bigger than all this?  Is it part of our identity, our very self . . . a power that we are given or that we develop or that we sometimes choose? And something that can be taken away in a suppressive and even oppressive way, as in “taking away someone’s voice”?

The six writers who gathered with me this past Saturday afternoon for the second Plume Service writing workshop determined that it could be all of the above.  While the first Plume Service asked participants to step into a painting and experience it on all five sensual levels–seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling–this second gathering invited the writers to try on a different persona and develop his or her voice.  No landscapes devoid of humanity this time.  Only paintings which featured humans or ones with humans distant or obscured and therefore unheard.  Their goal was to let these humans talk and to venture into the distance or through the haze to meet up with those humans who they could barely see.

The ultimate goal, as with the first Plume Service, was to amass creative pieces of writing inspired by the painting in The Pfister, from which I will be able to choose selections to accompany the paintings with placards and, I hope, audio.

After an insightful brainstorm around the definition of “voice,” the participants each wrote down three adjectives that they (or others) would use to describe them.  Then I asked them to ask themselves “Is this how I talk?” and “What does it even mean to ‘talk’ this way?”  For instance, I wrote down observant, gregarious, and kind.  One way, I told them, that I speak gregariously is that I use people’s names as often as possible, addressing them often and referring to them as examples (a skill I mastered while a teacher).  I also look people in the eye and try to engage them as interesting individuals worthy of my attention.  The examples they gave were all quite personal and revealing, almost confessional at times.  But we talked about what it means for someone’s voice to be “shy” or “sassy” or “anxious” and interrogated the validity or profundity of these meanings.

We could have talked for hours, I think.  But the paintings were calling out: “Hear our voices” (whisper) or “Hear our voices!” (cry) or “Hear our voices” (lament or plea).

And off they went to explore.  When they returned, I was surprised to learn that even more people had chosen to write about Charles Clement Calderon’s A View of Venice (note to self: Charles Clement Calderon’s A View of Venice is off limits for Plume Service III!).  I have already published three poems from the first workshop all inspired by this one painting.  I don’t know what it is about this painting: Is it enigmatic?  mysterious? inviting? soothing?  Is it that we all connect somehow with ships going out to sea and ships returning?  A coming and a going?  A longing for adventure and a yearning to return?

Whatever it is, I give you three more versions of Calderon’s oils.  The first is by Cian MacDonald-Milewski, a senior in high school, who writes an interior monologue in the voice of a man returning to his wife and child. The second, by Iris Geng, steps out of the painting and describes the scene from the Calderon’s perspective.  And the third is the first of a pair by Christina Oster: the Venice poem is in her father’s voice and a second, inspired by a different painting, is in her mother’s.

“Man in Tall, Docked Ship Thinking to Himself” 
by Cian MacDonald-Milewski

I am so glad to be home to see my wife and child.  It has been so long . . . I wish I wouldn’t have had to leave them for so long . . . When I left my child, she was so small, so bright, like a yellow daisy on a warm summer day in an open field.  I pray that they have not struggled while I was away. Now that I have gained enough coin from my venture to secure us, I hope I will not have to venture again.  I do not want to be ripped from my family because of finances . . . I will tell my wife the love that I feel deep inside my soul, this ember that has only been fueled while I have been away.  When I see my child, I will whisper in her ear and tell her promises of being there for her forever and always.  I long to embrace my wife and child and never part from their side again.

Cian

When participants heard Cian’s piece at the end of our workshop, they remarked at his vivid, poetic use of language and the formality of his thoughts, which, he says, he was trying to choose his words purposefully in order to replicate what might be a cultured voice from the late 1800s.

Iris’ poem chose a different angle with a short narrative from the perspective of someone observing the painter Calderon who was observing the scene on the water.  She captures nicely a potential disruption to an otherwise peaceful day.

“A Partly Cloudy Day for Painting”
by Iris Geng

It’s a nice, partly cloudy day at the dock of San Marco Square.  The painter had set up.  A schooner with massive sails toward the dock and a gondola with six guests tries very hard to row to get out of the way of the schooner.  The rowers sing out loud to coordinate and energize the gondola, but the three passenger couples are observant.  

“Watch out for that sailboat!” cries the man with a red hat and white gown.  

“No worry,” his friend says calmly.  “We have the right of way.”  

The fear on their women’s faces relaxes after hearing his remark.  

“What a gorgeous day to be on the canal,” the woman in blue chants.  “I am looking forward to our meal near the Riolto Bridge.”

Iris (left) and Christina (right)

This next Venice poem is the one by Christina Oster.  It is written in the voice of her deceased father, who succumbed to dementia, writing an imagined letter to his wife.  In a recent email, she shared, “Due to my father’s dementia right before he passed, they never had a chance to truly say ‘goodbye’ to each other.  This exercise proved the perfect way for me to bring closure of some sort to his unfortunate passing 6 months ago.”  The poem that follows is inspired by a different painting, Antonio Torres’ Grecian Girl, and written in the voice of her mother, writing to her husband.  Both are haunting and sad, but also, as Christina writes, words of closure.

“From Father”
by Christina Oster

Mother,
Demon vessels have demented my sails.
Waves crash, carrying away sediment filled with sentiment.
A mirage to think that my mast was made of steel.
It is not.
My mast is frail and feeble, getting weaker with the pelting storm.
But, my love, don’t ever question your presence through it all.
My view of Venice is not a blur.
I do recall.
I recall your beauty, your heart, your service.
I am soon approaching inevitable shipwreck.
But I will forever remember what the sea has forced me to forget.

“From Mother”
by Christina Oster

Father,
Finally, our Parthenon crumbles to ruins.
The Aegean Sea sailed your ship to sunset well before I could perform a final tidy-up.
My exhaustion prevails, but faith through my passion and pain will pulse and persist until our life
Our structure
is someday restored. 
But for now, my love
I have poured my last service.

Christina

I am thankful that Cian accompanied his mother to this workshop and unabashedly shared the romantic words of the sailor.

I am thankful that Iris, who is Chinese, overcame her anxiety about her written English so that we could see the Venice painting (yet again!) from a new perspective.

And I am thankful that Christina felt empowered enough to share her work with six complete strangers, let alone see in the two paintings an opportunity for personal healing and growth.  In her words, “Thank you for reuniting me with a style of writing that I’ve abandoned for far too long. I often think I can only write a certain way – a more edgy, promotional, advertise-ish way. I forgot that the romantic, compassionate voice still exists.”

It doesn’t matter who you are: there is surely a painting in The Pfister Hotel’s beautiful collection that is bound to hook you, draw you in, transform your vision, and help you find (or reconnect with) your voice.  I hope you’ll consider joining me for Plume Service III.  The January date is yet to be determined, so stay tuned!

As always, thank you for reading!

p.s. More Plume Service II stories and photos to come–including my own!

p.p.s. And stay tuned, also, for a little post on a little thing that happened to me this past Sunday: I got married and had brunch at The Rouge with 25 of my closest family and friends! 🙂

Plume Service Vol. 1: Sensual Perspectives of Time & Space

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About a week ago, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, fifteen people participated in the first ever Plume Service writing workshop, the first in a series of monthly writing experiences whose goal is to bring The Pfister’s paintings to life.

We gathered on the mezzanine, with a view of the lobby below and an ear to the flurry of activity into which we would soon enter (or from which we would retreat, as it were).  A beautiful spread of tea sandwiches, wine, and other beverages promised to keep us satisfied for the following two-and-a-half hours.

Participants wore nametags with their real names and their noms de plume, which included delightful disguises like “Lelia Allen,” “Lady T,” “Alexis St. Amand,” and “Salvadora Hemisphere.” I invited them to unveil and reveal the stories in the paintings they would view today, whether in the lobby, the 2nd floor, the 3rd, or the 7th.  Their methods: use their senses and their perspective.  Today, they would–not literally, of course, I warned them!–hold their ear up to a painting and listen to what the subjects were saying or enjoy the waves lapping onto the shore.  Today, they would lick the paintings and taste the apple or the cold, thick air.  They would sniff deeply to detect the flirtatious perfume or Venetian river banks, reach out and pet the hunting dog or the delicate dress, and, of course, observe closely or from far away. They could, too, if they were careful, step into a painting and become part of the landscape or join in on a conversation–or eavesdrop.

Their range of observations, I told them, did not have to be limited to the framed space that each artist had offered us.  Instead, they could imagine what was to the left or the right, above or below, in the foreground or the background.  They could, too, unstick the paintings from time and travel to the moment prior or just after, or three years before or two days after.  They could focus on the entire painting or just one part, one just one painting or many.  And they could choose to write in any form they wished: narrative, poetry, monologue or dialogue, pure description.  The operative word was “could.”  No limits, no rules.  Just use their senses, play with perspective–and don’t touch the paintings! 

I certainly got my exercise trying to find the fifteen writers all over the four floors.  At first, some of them dispersed in pairs or small groups, but eventually I found almost all of them in various states of contemplation: sitting on the carpet in the long second floor hallway in front of an intriguing painting, lounging on the chaise on the grand landing, scribbling prodigiously while standing, or relaxing in the lobby or the mezzanine.

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We talked about each painting briefly: about the sensuality of Love’s kiss or where the woman with the empty basket was going. About the longing gaze in one or the surprised expression of a monk as he witnessed the canoodling of two lovers.  About the three women in the sea of curling (as in the winter sport) men or the composition of the hunting dog painting.  Each participant had found his or her writing home for an hour or so, had taken that time to escape from the hecticness of their own lives to contemplate a work of art and be moved by it to tell stories.

When we reconvened in the mezzanine, they spent some time sharing their writing with their fellow participants.  Few instructions were needed–they leapt directly into the experience with positive, affirming, interested attitudes.  In one corner there was laughter about a witty poem, in another there were nods of approval and insight.

20161112_134156 20161112_134133 20161112_1341340Finally, to cap off our first Plume Service, we retreated to the plush white carpet of the Pop-Up Gallery (many with wine in hand–white wine, not red!) and gathered in a circle for an informal reading of our work.  Each new work was greeted with snaps or claps and often words of praise.  You can tell by the photos that much fun was had as we honored each other, each others’ writings, and the paintings that inspired them.

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Over the next week or so, I will be sharing excerpts from some of these writings for your reading pleasure.  After the workshops are concluded in early spring, I will be working with The Pfister to create placards to accompany some of the paintings and an audio tour that will enliven guests’ stay at the Hotel.

The next workshop will be held Saturday, December 10, again from 12-2:30 pm.  Same goal, different focus: VOICE.  Please sign up on the Plume Service Facebook page or RSVP at hotelnarrator@gmail.com.  I hope to see some of the same faces–and new ones–next month!

For now, enjoy a little literary Plume Service!

consuelo_fould_reverieReverie | Zoë Lindstrom aka “Countess Zoëlla Germaine”

Stay–
he said it once to me,
in a simple garden
before corsets
crushed the colors
of my breath.

Wait–
he placed a raw hand
on the ivory roses,
tinged salmon by the evening,
caught in their last pure meaning
before the frost.

No, I did not–
I did not linger then,
though later I pricked my fingers
with the thorns of privilege
in the grey garden of another.

Now
I wait,
I stay,
seeking to look again, with clear girls’ eyes,
at that moment.
Was it you I loved–
or the image of petals
left in mercy on the flower?

 

Getting HAPPY at The Pfister: A Story of Loss and Recovery

Suggestion: Turn up the volume on your device, click play, and prepare to get happy!

Photographs from Guillaume Duchenne’s 1862 book Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine

One of the many privileges of being human is that we experience emotions.  While some might argue that other creatures express emotions, too, or that it’s not much of a privilege that we have to experience the painful ones, no one can argue with the fact that we are indeed “moved out of ourselves” (Latin emovere – “move out, agitate”) by a myriad of complex feelings stemming from the four basic emotions of happiness, sadness, fear/surprise, and anger/disgust.  These emotions, each registered by different combinations of our 42 facial muscles, can cause us to love, cry, scream, or punch.  Sometimes we bottle them up or keep them hidden; sometimes we let loose and express them with reckless abandon.  And in our digital world, we don’t just register emotions with our faces: think of the billions of emoticons and gifs and memes that we use now to express our feelings.  Emotions are the stuff of our lives–and the building blocks of the stories we write about ourselves.  One such storythe directorial debut of Michael Patrick McKinley–hit the screens during the recent Milwaukee Film Festival.

While the festival is over, if you missed the Milwaukee premiere of McKinley’s delightful documentary Happy, don’t fret.  Just put on a happy face and head over to The Pfister’s Pop-Up Gallery for a glimpse into the sketchbooks of the subject of the film, Leonard Zimmerman.  Curated by Steven Uhles and hosted by Artist-in-Residence Pamela M. Anderson, “Don’t Erase Your Crooked Lines” features numerous prints from Leonard’s sketchbooks, an enormous collage of 32 photographs with Happy stickers in them, and an extended trailer of the film created just for this exhibit.  

20161004_140539Uhles describes Leonard’s art, with its whimsical robots and recognizable motifs, as “art as memoir.”  Even though this exhibit can only offer visitors a miniscule, microscopic fraction of his sketches, one can find even in it Leonard’s story of love and loss, depression and recovery–a story of falling in love and creating a life with Brian Malone, then losing him to cryptococcal meningitis.  The sketches depict Leonard’s subsequent depression and how his art became therapy, how it helped him hold on to his love for and memories of Brian and recover his capacity for boundless happiness.  Additionally, as with all good memoir, one can find in the sketches echoes of one’s own life events.  

The collage of Happy stickers–created by the Coalition of Photographic Arts–speaks to the participatory nature of Zimmerman’s art: the ubiquitous stickers of his Happy campaign, with the endearing smile and flashing bulb that people all over the world have attached to parts of their cities then shared with Leonard through social media.  While the yellow smiley that appeared in 1963 stares blankly ahead, this smiley tilts its head, its eyes have life, its bulb flashes a message of happiness.  Anyone can get free stickers by sending Leonard a self-addressed stamped envelope.  

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Gallery visitors consider the Happy collage.

One of the first things we hear about Leonard in the film comes from Alex Wier of Wier/Stewart, the branding, advertising, and graphic design company where Leonard is a designer.  Alex says, “Leonard comes from a different planet.”  Yes, Leonard’s infinite number of smiles and laughs are contagious, and yes, he can bring “childlike enthusiasm” to seemingly bland ad campaigns like ones for banks.  Yes, Leonard loved Christmas so much as a child that his tinsel and light displays rivaled, surely, Clark Griswold’s, and his parents even wondered, “Where does this child get all these things?”  But I have an inkling that Leonard is not really an alien from outer space, that his story is the story of being human on this planet.  One of wonder and delight, and one where there’s room for pain and suffering.  

We embrace our pains in different ways.  Leonard seems to have embraced it in every way possible.  In the film, we hear him embrace it with raw honesty, as when he describes for the camera the spinal fluid from Brian’s first spinal tap.  He describes how he embraced it with confusion and disorientation after Brian died, as when he would walk into the grocery store only to abandon it in tears because Brian usually did the shopping–he didn’t know what to buy.  He embraced it with self-medication, too, (“I didn’t think I would hurt”) and eventually had to move back home to Augusta after he lost his job and the house that Brian and he had bought together in Savannah.  

20161004_140530“My best friend was my notebook,” Leonard says in the film.  His sketches, some of which can be seen in the Pop-Up Gallery, allowed him to express his early love, the loss of his love, and the love that remained after his loss.  What emerged were lovable robots, some distinctly Leonard and Brian, others distinctly masculine or feminine, but more often than not, his robots eschew gender or race or sexuality.  Which brings us back to memoir as art: he has interpreted his life for himself, then shared it with us so that we can interpret it and interpret ourselves into it.  As one guest at the gallery’s opening night says, “His art is refreshing.  It makes you think about your own emotions, where you go through break-ups, life, death.  This one is about holding in that bad and not wanting to release the negative energy.  And in this one he has an indifferent face–but he has a bag puppet which suggests that he still has emotions.”

When people like his sister and old art teacher got him canvas, encouraging him to take his sketches one step further, he started painting again and Leonard was born again.  His paintings became a timeline of his emotions and experiences, his process one that echoes his own life: “I always paint messy, then clean it up along the way.”  

One of the best sequences in the film, for me, is one in which we watch Leonard painting in his studio, a soft spotlight on him and his easel in the middle of the room, the background darker.  With headphones jamming–probably to Sam Smith or Telepathic Teddy Bear, both featured heavily on the film’s soundtrackand red Chuck Taylors on his feet, he swoops around his painting with gusto and giddiness, with bright, broad brushstrokes and thick black outlines.  We see his messiness and what he does to “clean it up.”  Ane we can only imagine what he’s thinking as he paints.  Probably something like the quotation from Mother Theresa that he used during a TEDX Talk in 2014: “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”

Seeing the TEDX Talk for the first time brought director Michael McKinley to tears.  He says that something stuck with him, until six months later, while he was in Las Vegas and had his “epiphany”: to make a documentary about Leonard’s story.  An audience member at the film’s showing that I attended asked Michael why directors don’t make more inspirational movies instead of ones that leave viewers feeling ambiguous about their feelings or just plain empty.  He replied, “There need to be more movies that do the opposite of movies that make you feel sad and crummy.  Now I’ve got the bug.”

20161004_140548Another audience member wanted to know when she could see the film again so she could share it with her family and friends, but Michael reminded her that releasing a film to DVD or streaming while it’s still going through the film festivals gets tricky.  It could be another year, he said, to which she replied, with an apocalyptic tone, “The world doesn’t have twelve months.”   

Well, you’re going to have to wait awhile before you can see the entire documentary, though, because Happy is indeed enjoying the film festival circuit.  It premiered at the Historic Imperial Theater in Augusta, Georgia, delighted viewers at Milwaukee’s festival, and will soon show at New York City’s Chelsea Film Festival as one of only 24 North American films selected.  It will also appear, so far, at the Savannah Film Festival later this month, and the Southern City Film Festival in Aiken, South Carolina, in November.  Its likely that Happy will make it into other festivals as well.  So you could hit the road and head east or south–or be satisfied for now with the “Don’t Erase Your Crooked Lines” teaser, which will remain popped-up in the gallery through October 23.

And in the meantime, do as Leonard does: “You can make the choice to be happy, because happiness matters.”  And visit Leonard’s website and Facebook page to follow his adventures.  And don’t forget: self-addressed stamped envelope sent to him will get you four Happy stickers all your own!

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Michael Patrick McKinley (l) and Leonard Zimmerman (r)

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Kids Say the Darnedest Things…About My Head

Esme was taking care of some really important business as she stormed the Pfister to look at some art.

You’d never say that she was in the way as she rushed around with her furiously important agenda, but you could say that she was somewhat underfoot. Real close to underfoot, as a matter of fact. Esme is one young busy body who is probably still measured in inches rather than feet.

Esme was barking out commands as she was twirling around the Pop-Up Gallery looking at some art. Twirling for real. Not some figurative idea of a hard charging boss lady. Twirling because her dress looked a lot more fun when she twirled.

“I’m really busy right now. REALLY busy. I’ll call you back.”

Esme yanked a flip phone from her cheek as she ended her call. She began a heat seeking search for a piece of art that featured her mother as a prominent subject. For someone with as much hustle in her bustle as this young tycoon, I was surprised that Esme wasn’t screaming into something like an iPhone 27, you know, that super new model of smartphone that only the most important of the important people seem to be able to get their hands on.

I had to know how Esme dealt with all her business with a simple old school clamshell mobile dealio. I mean, my dad has one of those and he likes to brag about how he only makes one call a year on it. I couldn’t imagine how this worked for someone who seemed to have so many things to take care of in the here and now. She cleared up my confusion right away.

“It’s an eraser. A PHONE eraser,” Esme said. Esme put a big stress on the word PHONE lest I continued to have any confusion about the function of the thing she had been shouting into.

I mentioned to Esme that a phone eraser might revolutionize the world of cellular technology.

“I don’t know,” said Esme. “Sure.”

Esme flipped into action mode and was on to her next bit of business. That biz seemed to be taking the measure of a man. Or, at least, a man’s head.

Reaching into her obviously very important itsy, bitsy purse, Esme produced a tiny pink kaleidoscope that she daintily held up to her eye. She pointed the end of the kaleidoscope in the direction of my head, twisted its body, and gave me her very solemn report about the state of my ever-loving noggin.

“Your head looks weird. Really weird.”

Out of nowhere, Esme’s sidekick appeared. Her sidekick also happened to be her brother Milo. This lad was a tad taller, but I’d lay better than average odds he answers questions about his height based on double digits inches, too.

Milo grabbed the kaleidoscope out of Esme’s hand and focused in on my head as his sister just had. He did not linger, as lighting fast action seemed to be the defining characteristic of the Esme and Milo bloodline. Milo sang out his own contrarian report with a big, gooey smile.

“I don’t think your head looks weird at all.”

Nice kid, that Milo.

And Esme? Well, she might have crushed my spirits for the blink of an eye, as any rough riding business lady can do from time to time, but, boy oh boy, I can’t wait to work for her someday.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

The Only Problem Is That the Water Cooler Might Be Used to Wash a Brush or Two

How many times have you looked at a piece of art hanging on the wall and said, “My kid can do that?”

And how many times have you taken brush in hand to find out that kids are cute, but making art isn’t for the feint of heart.

It’s with this sense of awe for the process of creation that I come to the continuing confirmation that the people who work for and support the Pfister and its parent Marcus corporation aren’t just pros of the highest degree, they are artists. In the case of a current display of talents in the Pfister’s Pop Up Gallery, this statement is both literal and figurative.

Last Friday the Pop Up Galley was the site of the opening reception of the Art of Marcus Show. This was no display of a group of disgruntled employees acting out their frustrations over a hostile work environment with tortured splashes of oil paint on a dirty cloth calling for overthrow of “the man.” No, indeed, the art on display showed that the concept of “Salve”, the motto of welcome hospitality for all prominently on display as part of the ceiling fresco art in the Pfister Lobby, has warmly wormed its way into the psyches of all the Marcus employees presenting art.

It’s not for nothing that a hotel that has its own Aritst-In-Residence and Narrator puts value on showing off the off hours talents of their staff. I get a kick out of the fact that the same bartender who mixes the world’s best Bloody Mary has an eye for landscapes. And this is no, “My kid could paint that,” kind of show, either. It’s a true celebration of how the people that make it their business to ensure a comfy stay for all our guests stretch their artist souls.

When, as a writer, I think, “Boy, I’m so busy…how can I produce anymore words?” I remember that Kurt Vonnegut sold Saabs from 9 to 5, Harper Lee punched a clock as an airline ticket reservationist, and William S. Burroughs was an exterminator. It’s my reminder to stop whining and sit down with pen in hand and start my real life’s work. Those notable writers didn’t just define themselves by their day jobs and clearly knew that being an artist meant more than dreaming about it—for all of them it meant showing up and simply doing the work.

Having seen the work of the Marcus employees, I will now take inspiration from their efforts and realize that while these hard working stewards could be kicking off their shoes and cracking a cold brew at the end of the day, they have chosen to take off their work clothes and put on that soft shirt that won’t suffer from a splotch of paint. I’m happy that visiting guests get to know our staff as more than champions of comfort and see that there are some real serious artists walking the halls of the Pfister.

I hope you enjoy these images of the Art of Marcus Show, and I hope you’ll stop by soon and experience these delights in person.

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Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

When you look at some modern art it can stump you.

Barbara has been giving tours for the Milwaukee Art Museum over a half century.

“When I first came to the museum, there were eight employees.”

This January I started my fifty-second year.

I retired when I was 50,

but I’m still going in,

teaching and working

‘cause I don’t want to sit at home.

I train the docents

and they tour about 80.000 people a year.”

She’s taken 75 trips to Europe,

“I counted it all up when I retired.

England was the first country I went to.”

Last year she took her docents to Belgium and Holland.

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And she made her own dress.

 

Being an art museum docent is hard.

“People expect you to know everything.”

When you look at some modern art it can stump you.

“Ellsworth Kelly’s “Red, Yellow, Blue,”

that’s one people have a hard time with.

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But you have to understand,

it was hand done,

he mixed the colors, that yellow

is the yellow he wanted,

he copied it from nature,

like a bird he saw,

he didn’t just go out to Menards!

How can I make these people understand?

Their grandchildren can’t do it!

When Kelly was in the war

he asked to be in the camouflage department.

Once in a while I’ll be lucky

and a student will be in

Ellsworth Kelly camo.

I’ve met Ellsworth Kelly several times.

He’s a very kind person,

a little on the shy side.”

 

What are Barbara’s favorite areas of art to talk on?

“American History and Decorative Arts

furniture, silver, ceramics.

My favorite is probably seventeenth century colonial.”

 

“Over the years a lot of people have visited Milwaukee

and I’ve taken them around,

Madame Chiang Kai-shek.”

(I hadn’t heard of her, so I looked her up,

former first lady of China, 1948-1975)

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“David Hockney, I loved him.

“I loved this young man who is now a rock star, but when I met him he was just coming up, um, I can’t think of his name. It’ll come. He works on China, Africa and America… Kehinde Wiley!

Gilbert and George when they came from England,

I met Andy Worhol. He never talked. My brother had a friend who knew him quite well.

Mark Rothko,

Tony Randall of the Odd Couple,

he knew everything,

he was the smartest man I ever met.

I let him do all the talking and I did the anecdotes.”

Barbara has never watched Star Trek,

but she gave Dr. Spock a tour.

“He gave me a Dr. Spock ear,

I didn’t know what it was or what I was supposed to do with it.

Ginger Rodgers,

Ray Milland, he never took his hat off because he didn’t have his toupee on,

Vincent Price,

Noguchi,

Sofa and Ottoman
Noguchi!

di Suvero,

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This is what googling di Suvero’s “The Calling” looks like.

 

George Shearing, he’s blind and I got a call from him asking to take him around.

A grandmother had the same thing, I took her around.

Gordon Parks,

and when the Beatles came to Milwaukee the first time,

I held the door to the war memorial open for them.”

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“Excellent Broth! I’m going to have it every time I come.

I’ve been begging for broth here.

I like soup very much but,

I don’t like heavy duty,

I like to have broth.

It kinda curbs your appetite,

settles your stomach,

it’s good for your bones,

and I just love hot broth.

Right here at the café counter I met Shaquille O’Neill.

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Right there!

He wasn’t feeling well.

I didn’t know who he was.”

Shaq’s manager worked on a crossword puzzle with Barbara,

and explained who Mr. O’Neill was.

Barbara gave Shaq a ticket to the art museum,

and he went.

 

Tuesday Afternoon Reverie

It is 2:21 p.m. and here’s what is going down:  a recording of violin music saturates the air.  Someone walks past hauling a 2.88 (or so) foot long camcorder.  The fronds of a palm tree sensuously caress the south column.  A security guard carefully explains how to get to the Metro Market to a hotel guest.  I estimate the guest to be about thirty years old by the way he has trimmed his beard. Another man in a baseball cap asks me if I am typing a letter to my mother, cialis I am not.  I am writing a letter to the hotel lobby, or rather what is happening inside it, since the lobby itself might not be sentient in the way that you and I are.  If it were though, I’d feel sorry for the rug.  Here is this exquisite rug placed on top of the ornate wall-to-wall carpeting and people just walk right over it without respectfully acknowledging the brief yet fantastic change of terrain.

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Behold.

This is a place where no matter where you look there is something that you can get lost dazing into. I am going to stop typing now so that I may enter reverie as I consider the spatial delights experienced by the light emanating from all the electrical fixtures.  I consider the spatial tension that exists between the empty chairs at the top of the stairs.  If you stick around in this place long enough you will hear each quarter of the hour marked by the dingdong chime of a grandfather clock.  Today I’ve typed here long enough to see a ball bearing pop off my typewriter and roll down the marble steps.  The steps here remind me of salami.  How delicious!

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Genoa salami is my favorite, perhaps but this looks a little more like capicola.

 

A man descends the stairs and I notice that he has clipped his sunglasses to the backside of his turtleneck collar.  I have never seen anyone keep their sunglasses snug against their neck vertebrae like that before.  Someone loudly asks, “Anymore gifts?”  Their companion loudly replies, “We are up to $1500,000 now.” People wheel their baggage through.  It is funny to think about how 20 years ago all this luggage would have been lugged in without wheels.  When I was a kid it still had not occurred to society to put wheels on suitcases. We have come a long way.  I leave my typewriter to go sit by the fire for a while.  My eyes close.  Val, the bartender asks if I want anything, but no, I just want to sit by the fire.  “That’s fine, people have been doing that since 1893,” says Val.  As I sit I hear a pair of middle-aged women in the midst of some profuse giggling.  I walk over to them.  Pam & Kate explain how they just got back from a Photoshop conference and are now feeling giddy.  The Happy Hour has descended.  Roc at the desk has told me that the lobby bar is where Marilyn Monroe liked to sip her drinks.  The stairwell is where Elvis Presley stood to graciously wave at everyone.  Roc himself spent an hour and a half discussing international politics with Margaret Thatcher.  Roc also said, “The hotel never used to allow dogs in here like they do now.  Dogs love the elevator here! Each floor has it’s own bouquet of smells that the dog catches whiff of as they go past in the elevator. I wish you could interview a dog and get them to tell you what it is that they smell on each floor.”  Hmm, good idea.

The 2014 Pfister Artist in Residence Finalists

Congratulations to our six 2014 Artist-in-Residence finalists. Their work will be on display at Gallerie M in the InterContinental Hotel beginning on January 13th, shop 2013 through February 14th, 2013. The public will be able to vote for Richard & the other 2014 Artist in Residence finalists through the Pfister Hotel Facebook page beginning on 1.17.  Fans will be able to vote once per day through 2.14.  
(Please note that the public vote only counts for one chair on the final selection committee).

Starting at Noon on January 17th, and you can vote for your favorite artist by visiting the voting tab on Facebook right here.

You can read the proposals from each of the finalists by clicking their names below:

Brandon Minga
Dena Nord
Richard Dorbin
Niki Johnson
Jeff Redmon
Stacey Williams-Ng

2014 Artist in Residence Finalist – Richard Dorbin

Richard Dorbin – Milwaukee, WI

 

Proposal:  I love interacting with people and learning their stories. I also love creating images that have a human narrative. These two loves can dovetail into a new medium for the Pfister Artist-in-Residence: Photography

Imagine an image of a guest’s nightstand, littered with a crumpled wedding invitation, a withered boutonniere, and crumpled tissues. How could an image of “trash” on a nightstand be compelling, emotional, or even artistic?

I believe that I have the experience as an artist, a listener, and a story teller to answer that question and do it in collaboration with guests in the gallery.

There are countless stories to be found in the objects, faces, guests and employees of the Pfister. Those images can be emotionally charged and artistically compelling.

That very collaboration will be the creative process that drives the creation of my art.

Gallery nights will also be collaborative events that will highlight established professionals and aspiring photographers as well as creating exciting, in-the-moment imagery as part of the event.

The gallery space will display an on-going and ever changing collection of images that will tell stories with a unique and textural voice, as well as being host to photography classes for underserved parts of the Milwaukee community.


Richard’s work will be on display at Gallerie M in the InterContinental Hotel beginning on January 13th, 2013 through February 14th, 2013.  The public will be able to vote for Richard & the other 2014 Artist in Residence finalists through the Pfister Hotel Facebook page beginning on 1.17.  Fans will be able to vote once per day through 2.14.  
(Please note that the public vote only counts for one chair on the final selection committee).

Starting at Noon on January 17th, you can vote for your favorite artist by visiting the voting tab on Facebook right here.

You can read the proposals from each of the other finalists by clicking their names below:

Brandon Minga
Dena Nord
Niki Johnson
Jeff Redmon
Stacey Williams-Ng